It has taken us a minute to gather our thoughts and articulate our feelings at what is happening in the world right now. The murder of George Floyd has unleashed a wave of outrage and protest globally as it should. Black Lives Matter and Black Lives have always Mattered. It was an individual who murdered George Floyd, but institutional and systemic racism gave that individual the authority and power to be able to do so. We are mourning the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arberry during this moment, as well as the deaths at the hands of the police in the UK including Mark Duggan, Rashan Charles and Roger Sylvester. But we have been living through a series of moments for a long time now. These three most recent deaths are the latest in a long and horrible trail of racism but they will certainly not be the last.
The dehumanisation of black people that started with displaying black bodies as zoological and anthropological curiosities in natural history museums and not history museums has created a society in which it is acceptable to not only kill with little to no impunity, but to also share images of black bodies being murdered in a manner that is not permissible for white bodies, or even animals. The representation of our contribution to society is our way of making our voice heard.
We feel uncomfortable using this moment and this murder to promote the museum. We could not have known our COVID-19 exhibition campaign would be happening at a time of uprising. But we cannot escape the fact that the museum exists because of the same reason the murder happened; racism in institutional settings and structures, both overt and subtle. Simply posting Black Lives Matter without an action plan is empty and meaningless, the antithesis to the apathy that this movement was set up to contradict.
As always we have to look to history in order to guide us about where we are heading. If you do not know where you have been then you can’t know where you’re going. In a time where people of African, Afro-Caribbean and Asian descent are dying at disproportionately high rate due to COVID-19, it has never been more necessary to look at the history we have at our disposal and make sure we learn from it while we can.
We want to create a gallery called Respect Due for our elders who are at an increased risk of dying and capture their words for future generations. Such artists are largely invisible from the nation’s permanent collections, and their stories are heritage that is at risk. Help us to create this resource by giving here. For more information, please email [email protected].